Stillers-49ers Post Game Analysis & Grades:
This was a sloppy, but nice, win over a sagging 49er club. The Stillers jumped out to a 17-6 halftime lead, then turtled & held on in a wet downpour against a SF offense that never got its passing game untracked.
QB: The Western Union Man had a pretty good 1st half, passing for nearly 100 yards and throwing a deep completion to Troy and a decent deep pass to Ward that resulted in a long PI penalty gain. The converse is that Stewart did nothing to move the ball in the 2d half, and the yardage gained was against nearly the worst pass defense in the entire NFL. And, rookie DB Pierson Prioleau had 2 catchable INTs that were dropped. Also, Stewart, right after SF had called a 1st qtr. TO, inexplicably wasted a timeout himself because the clock had run down near 0. How many times has this happened this season? 4?? B.
RB: Bus was bottled up fairly well by the SF defense, gaining just 32 yards on 17 rushes before his final carry for the 21-yard TD scamper. Hunt, the man whom I've been screaming for to be more involved in the offense, had 7 carries for 83 yards, including a nice 52-yard jaunt that nearly scored a TD. He even went to great measures at the end of that long run, holding the ball with both hands to ward off a possible stripped fumble. And, Hunt's blitz pickups were superb. A.
FB: Witman had his typically ineffective day. More than a half dozen times, we ran dive plays with Witman lead blocking, only for the play to be totally clogged up, with Witman getting stood up more often than the pizza-faced nerd at the 8th grade dance. Witman also whiffed poorly on 1 WR screen, resulting in a 2-yard loss. On 1 Stewart rollout to the right with about 5 minutes left in the game, Witman was supposed to escort Stewart. Yeah, he played escort alright --- and rolled over like an eager, cheap escort visiting a rich client. The LB blasted Witman twice and shoved him back into Stewart's face, resulting in an incomplete pass. Witt did lead block on Bettis' 1st TD plunge, but upon further review, he blocked McQuarters, that big, bulky DB who weighs about 190 pounds. And on the Bettis 21-yard TD, Witt led and literally hit no one. C-.
WR: This crew, for the most part, made up for their hideous showing on MNF 2 weeks ago. Edwards, who isn't allowed to start because of his rookie status, once again led the way, grabbing a team-high 6 balls. Troy had a superb 41-yard completion, in which he snared a deep toss, then somehow kept his balance after being blasted after the catch & gained a few more yards. This is talent, plain and simple, that cannot ever be taught or coached. There is NO other WR on this roster who could have made that play that Troy did. Troy had another TD in the 4th qtr, but it was nullified by a motion penalty. Hawk had 2 grabs for 26 yards, and Hines had a nice 13-yard TD and fought hard on the bomb that resulted in the PI penalty. Blackwell had 2 grabs for a whopping 6 yards, and nullified Troy's TD with a foolish motion penalty. As a side note, Ward assumed the role of BWB (blocking wingback), a prestigious position held by Charles Johnson. This role had mostly been discarded this season, but Gilbride re-established it today with Hines. A-.
TE: Bruener, the indispensable $3 million man, caught 1 pass for zero yards, on a 3rd and 1 play. His blocking was solid. Lyons was thrown 1 ball, but it was well off-target. B.
OL: The pass protection was pretty sound the entire game. The 1 sack was caused by a foolish blunder by Faneca, who was passed along a stunting lineman by Gandy. Faneca, for no apparent reason, hesitated, and the man breezed by and got the sack. Very poor. The run blocking was totally inadequate. The SF defense was ripe for a beating, but the line got little push and opened too few holes. B-.
DL: After playing 1 of the best games of his career, Joel Steed came back down to earth and delivered a real stinkbomb at 3Com Stadium today. He contributed zero tackles, zero assists, and little else. He failed to "plug the middle", as is his claim to fame. Worse, he loafed and lumbered around like a sickly mule. On SF's 5th play from scrimmage --- a 2d & 7 run that was brought back for an illegal crackback --- Garner ran right, then cut back up the gut. Steed was initially buried on the play, and was simply lying on his belly, with no Niner on top of him, just looking at this play develop. Garner easily scooted past the slothful Steed for a 7-yard pickup. Given that this occurred very early on a cool San Fran afternoon, this was without question one of the laziest, most inexcusable plays I've ever seen a Steeler defender commit in the past 3 years. I watched this play several times on video in utter disbelief. The other linemen were equally worthless today. Henry and Vrabel did nothing. Roye contributed a lil'. The linemen did an overly piss-poor job of taking up space and keeping the OL from getting full contact on the ILBs. The wet and muddy field had a factor in negating our quickness, but this was still unacceptable. D.
LB: This was the "breakout" game by Kirk. He'd been a bit quiet all year, but this may have been his best game to date. He led the D with 11 solos, caused a fumble by stripping Garner, and seemed to be in on nearly every play. Holmes was a bit quiet today, a lot of which can be attributed to poor DL play and also being removed a lot for nickel/dime defenses. The OLBs, aka The Pitter Pat Brothers, are still being sought after by the FBI under a missing persons report. Each man, Emmons and Gildon, was as invisible as a cloaked Romulin starship. It was a disgraceful linebacking effort that would have caused Andy Russell and Jack Ham to spew vomit all over their living rooms had they been watching. San Fran continually ran at, around, and just inside our OLBs, and neither man offered any more resistance than France did in World War 1 (or 2, for that matter). After this sorry effort, I expect representatives from Thompson's Water Seal to sign these 2 stiffs to promotional contracts, since both men were continually sealed in -- airtight -- by the San Fran offense. To boot, neither man applied any sort of regular pressure on Garcia (Gildon had 1 untouched pressure, but Garcia easily got the ball off). In one wretched sequence in the 4th quarter, Gildon was beaten easily by Garner on a 3d and 12 pass completion, in which not only did Gildong allow the completion, but then flailed poorly at the tackle and missed, allowing Garner a 22-yard play. Two plays later, Garner ran around his right end for a 22-yard gainer, while Gildon was sealed in by the TE. ILBs, A. OLBs, D-.
DB: This was a pretty solid effort by this crew today. The coverage was good, especially considering the premier trio they were facing. Chad did get abused badly on one deepish ball to Owens early in the 3d qtr, which Owens dropped. Davis and even DeWayne missed a couple tackles on the long Gainer runs. Shields had an INT on a poor overthrow by Stendstrom. Flowers chipped in with 7 solos.
Spec Teams: The KO coverage once again nearly bit us in the ass, giving up a huge return to Phillips that was only stopped short of a TD by a hustling Troy Edwards. Josh's punting was pretty good. Simmons gaffed badly on the last pooch punt, clumsily failing to bat back the ball before it rolled into the EZ. Brown booted FGs of 28 and 38 yards, but missed his 1st FG of the season (technically, his 2d, but the Browns committed a penalty when he missed in the opener, so that play was nullified), a 31-yarder that hit the upright. One sour note with Brown was his KOs. He kicked off 3 times in the 1st quarter, with gale-force winds at his back, but only reached the 6, 2, and 5. 1 KO in the 3d qtr -- against the wind -- went all the way to the SF 25. C+.
Off Coord: Let's credit Gilbride for wisely taking advantage of the wind and calling for downfield throws in the 1st quarter. This gave us the lead that, combined with miserable weather and a miserable SF offense, was too much to overcome. I'll also pat Gilbride on the back for his use of Hunt. The 3d & 4 toss sweep to Hunt was a superb playcall that got us the 4 yards & a 1st down. Ditto for the toss sweep that resulted in the 52-yard Huntley scamper. On the other hand, there were the expected sillyassed playcalls, like the 1-yard pass to Breuner on 3d and 1 that netted about 33 inches. Sure, the throw was low, but this is a classic 15-Cent play that allows for ZERO margin for error. Rather than a 2-yard pattern, we run a dinky 1-yard pattern and fall 3 inches shy of the stick. I was also enraged by the delay of game penalty just after the long Huntley run, on 1st & goal at the 1. This has become a basic staple of our offense this year --- the inevitable delay of game penalty after a long gainer. Like the Stewart "let's waste a TO right after there's been an injury TO or the end of a quarter or an opponent's TO", this asinine delay of game penalty has occurred far too often on what's supposed to be an offense in the National Football League. The entire blame for this kind of charade rest squarely on the shoulders of Kevin Gaypride. I cannot see exactly what kind of chicanery occurs on the sideline after these kind of long gainers, but I suspect it's entirely comprised of a stunned Gilbride whooping and glad-handing with Field Goal Bill over their gleeful amazement at an NFL offense moving the ball further than 7 yards on a given play. At any rate, rather than an easy 1st & goal line plunge for a game-sealing TD, we get pushed back 5 yards for a jackassed delay of game penalty, and we end up settling for Cowher's favorite play, the field goal. The overall offensive movement was nothing to be proud of. Our 2d half possession were: 3 & punt, 3 and punt, 5 plays (19 yards) & FG, 5 plays & missed FG, 3 and punt, 3 and punt, 2 plays (26 yards), TD. B.
Def Coord: I keep wondering how much more gushing and fawning we'll hear about Jim Haslet. Luckily today, Gumbel and Simms kept it to a minimum. Haslet had his men woefully unprepared for the combination of Garner's cutback running and the SF offensive blocking tricks, which utilize a host of chops, cuts, and holds. Giving up 166 yards on the ground to Garner, on only 20 carries, in downright shameful. The pass defense stats look great, but stopping the dynamic duo of Garcia and Stendstrom is no immense feat. C.
Head Coach: This game played out exactly to Marty Jr.'s liking --- a quick lead, followed by foul weather, and a turtling offense. Cowher had to be elated at the way this script flowed. B.
Beating this 49er team in San Fran at any point in time prior to this season would have been a great feat, but it's apparent that this Niner team is falling fast and going nowhere. This is a nice win to pick up after the bye week, and coupled with next week's easy romp over the Browns, will put us at 6-3. Then, we finally get to play a real team --- the 1st since we lost to Buffalo on Oct. 10th --- when we visit Tenn. The plus side is that we gained a lil' confidence with this win, with some players stepping up, most notably Kirk, Troy and Hunt. On the minus side, the rush defense was severely ravaged, with the glaring weak spots -- the OLBs -- badly exposed by a savvy San Fran gameplan. Let's hope the players and staff work on the errors, address the deficiencies, and work toward making improvement when they play the Browns next week. After that, it's a 7-week sprint that contains considerably more competition than the softee schedule thus far.
The Still Mill